CrossFit: A New Trend of High Intensity Interval Training

In the last few years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number and type of activities in fitness centres that employ high intensity interval training (HIIT) as an alternative to traditional endurance training for the improvement of aerobic fitness. Relatively recent research has demonstrated that HIIT provides fitness and health improvement in less time per week than traditional guidelines (e.g., equal or over 150 or 75 minutes of moderate- or vigorous intensity respectively of aerobic physical activity, and over two days strength training, per week).

Among all these new ”tendencies” or activities, CrossFit is a group-based HIIT combining aerobic and strength exercises with focus on functional (multi-joint) movements. It is characterised by workouts named ”workouts of the day” (WODs) that use a wide variety of exercises, ranging from running and rowing to Olympic/power lifting to gymnastic movements. These exercises are often combined into high-intensity (e.g., self-selected) workouts that are performed in rapid, successive repetition, with limited or no recovery time. Some workouts are performed for a best time, and others are performed in the ”as many rounds as possible (AMRAP)” or ”every minute on the minute (EMOM)” style using varying time domains, ranging from 10 to 20 minutes.

CrossFit has gained widespread attention for several reasons: easy access to programming, a short time commitment, and higher enjoyment than traditional training. Results suggest that individuals practicing CrossFit on a regular basis (2-3 times a week) can work at a sufficient intensity to meet the American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendations for enhancing aerobic fitness and promoting total body mass and fat weight loss. However, when recommending this kind of activity, there are some issues that must be recognised. First, is the apparently random exercise regimes and lack of individualisation for participants of these programs, as WODs are usually performed at high intensity, with a high number of repetitions and using heavy weight movements. This could lead to episodes of muscle inflammation, and thus, questions have arisen with regards to the safety of this activity. Additionally, due to the high volumes and the high prevalence of injuries (e.g., shoulder and low back) reported, caution must be taken when programming WODs. In order to avoid possible health problems caused by repetitive high-intensities and poor technique, it would be recommended to organise a more balanced programming of workouts, reducing the number of ”dangerous” exercises, and also combine CrossFit WODs with aerobic-based training.

The above article is based on published scientific evidence.

Written by Dr Alexandros Mitropoulos.

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